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The blog for ambitious founders.

My blog covers the MANY highs and lows of starting, scaling and selling my business for 7-figures, in just 4 years. If you're an ambitious entrepreneur then add your email below to get a new episode delivered every Wednesday.

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Hiring your way from start up to exit.

I'm not sure if I can think of anything that can be more positive or negative to your business than a hire.

Get it right and it makes your life as a founder far easier and more fulfilling.

Get it wrong, and the impact can set you back weeks, months or even years.

Chances are that if you have plans to scale up your business, you won't be able to do it alone. You're going to need to successfully run the hiring gauntlet.

I think it's so crucial that it should be added to the school curriculum. But until that day, you'll have to make do with my findings from growing my team from 1 to 80 people in 4 years.

I've removed any names to avoid legal action. I'm sure you understand.

The most cruel and exhausting element of hiring is that just as you've managed to nail it and get your A team together for your start up, your needs entirely change for a scale up. So you'll likely have to start again. Who'd be a founder, aye?

One choice that I made throughout my own business journey, was to do the majority of recruitment myself. This was just a personal choice, not an attack of recruitment agencies. But I felt that, particularly as a service business, the people we brought in were so crucial to the success, that there wasn't anything I could be doing that was more important.

And remember, as a start up business, people aren't necessarily queuing to leave their well paid, safe job to join you. Hiring the very best people for your business is a pitch. And I'm pretty good at pitching. So right until the point of exiting my business, with 80 people based across the world, I was doing most headhunting myself.

Would I change that fact if I created another agency? No chance. The people that I brought in had as much, if not more impact on the final outcome than me. In fact, by the end I'd pretty much made myself redundant. Crushing for the ego, but ideal for a potential acquirer.

Let me tell you my hiring story, from start up to 7-figure exit within 4 years.

I'd say that the best sale that I made throughout my businesses life was getting employee number 1 on board. I said I won't name names, in this case mainly for his own ego. But for all that I didn't know about business at that stage, I did know that revenue solves most problems.

I was a sales guy. My first hire was a sales guy.

As a result, revenue was not a problem. Figuring out how to service the many clients that we quickly signed was. But at that point it's a great problem to have, that you can solve with the revenue from your new paying clients.

Knowing we had the revenue coming in allowed us to hire people straight away that could manage the client work.

The advice that you hear over and over again from people is to make sure you're working on the business, not in it.

The longer you stay in the business, the harder it is to get out. It becomes habit. People start relying on you. Clients expect to speak to you every week. I never had that problem because I designed the business from day 1 to allow me to be focussed on the things I do best.

And that wasn't made possible because I raised loads of funding. I simply found the clients first, and then quickly built a team to service them.

Me, and the mysterious employee number 1 were largely able to purely focus on marketing the business and pitching to new clients.

At this stage the people we were hiring were all junior and local to our office in Farnham. We had the knowledge of what strategies we should be implementing for clients, and the people we hired were there to execute them.

Hiring these people was pretty easy. We really capitalised on the fact that Farnham had a creative university, and we gave newly qualified students an opportunity to work in a hot industry, without having to commute to London. We just ran job ads on Linkedin and got hundreds of applicants. The people we hired were all smart generalists. Running Amazon wasn't rocket science and we were able to get them up to speed pretty quickly.

This was manageable for the first year or so, up until we had maybe 10 or 15 clients. But as the next few new clients dropped in, it was clear that the junior team needed some stronger leadership. Not in terms of the work for the clients, but managing the relationships.

They didn't naturally feel like they could push back on client demands, or tell them when their request wasn't best for the strategy. It resulted in a lot of over servicing and a very transactional service offer.

The next hire to our client team was someone with client-side and agency-side experience. Someone that knew the tricks that clients play and how to push back. It was a huge relief for me to be fully removed from the client strategy discussions and again focus on bringing more revenue in.

This person naturally became the client service team lead and not only took away the client challenges, but also the problems of a growing junior team. Pay rise requests, holiday approvals, all of the admin that can be a real time and focus sap.

We were lucky to have had this person contact us directly looking for a role. The benefit of us sharing the journey of growing the business publicly on Linkedin was great for attracting clients, but also great people.

The head of client services hire got us through the next stage of our growth, heading from 20 clients to 40.

But now we had new challenges coming our way. A different kind of team problem. Not pay rises and holidays anymore. But how to actually structure the growing team. We needed to start creating teams within the team and adding layers of management. This was a big distraction from signing clients. We needed a mega hire to own this problem, not just for now, but when we were twice as big, or five times as big.

I know I go on about needing to sign clients. Makes me sounds a bit of a money-grabbing robot. But, I wanted to grow a business that would sell for millions in a short period of time. Unfortunately that's just not possible without signing a lot of new clients, every month. It's relentless and you can't stop, even when things are going great.

My hiring strategy throughout the business was to enable me to be focussed on bringing in new revenue. What that meant in terms of type of person changed throughout the stages, but the purpose never did.

So this mega hire that we needed was going to be absolutely crucial to the dream of scaling to exit. They were about to inherit a business in its gangly teenage phase, and turn it into an adult. Proper processes, proper accountability and constantly changing priorities.

This couldn't be a junior hire, it needed to be someone experienced, and therefore expensive.

We were a fast growing business. But as any business owner knows, fast growth often means less cash in the bank. Working capital is under major strain when you're constantly signing new business and hiring to service it. Your clients pay you late, but you can't do the same to your team.

We needed an expensive hire, but we couldn't really afford one.

The solution to this specific hire, shaped the way we made all future senior hires.

Turn a cost into a revenue source.

We hired our big hitter (again they contacted us off the back of our Linkedin content). Earning more that 3 times my own salary at the time. The role was to own the operational challenges of the business, and the future bigger business.

But this hire unlocked revenue in 2 ways.

They were an experienced and well respected person with a strong network of potential clients. We won new clients just by announcing they had joined the company. And then many more after they opened up their little black book.

Quite literally self funded within 2 months. Suddenly the large salary was a worry of the past.

The second revenue source was that we tasked this person with not just managing the client teams, but driving more money from it.

At this stage we were great at signing new clients, but terrible at growing them. Within 6 months, we were an upselling machine. To the point where every new client we signed was like signing two. We were that good at growing the fees.

The other benefit of the mega-hire was that it brought someone else in at problem-solving level. Not only were they able to do the job that we asked them to do, but they came up with ideas of new strategies or products.

It was clear that actually expensive people were a lot cheaper to hire than cheap people. They paid for themselves quickly and they took problems away, not add them.

The new hiring strategy was born. We called them player managers. People that we could hire that would become their own little mini P&L. Either they unlock a network, or a new service offering, or a country. Some kind of clear revenue that could be attributed to their cost.

We did it, over and over again. And 9 times out of 10 it worked.

We were getting brilliant people, that quickly paid for themselves and then became profitable. The whole time, not needing hand holding.

The result was explosive growth. Like £50k/month to £400k/month within a couple of years. But the one thing more beneficial than the revenue itself was the fact the company was filling up with incredible, experienced people. It was no longer just my responsibility to think of new products or strategies. People were coming to me with their own proposals and ideas.

Our churn rate fell to almost zero. Clients now had access to some of the greatest minds in the industry. Even if it was only for half an hour a month.

And with the solid management team, fast-growing revenue and almost zero churn came the acquisition approaches.

Without a doubt, we hired our way from start up to exit. In the early stages it was all about enabling the best sales people to be selling. And once we needed to move the needle further, it needed a team of people that could not only deliver on the strategies we set, but come up with their own.

If you want to grow your business then make sure you have the best people in the right roles. If you're the best sales person, then make sure that's what you're doing.


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